Thursday, December 24, 2015

"To: Jesus, with Love"

Amidst all of the shopping, wrapping, baking and partying you are doing ... STOP right now and take a minute to remember what all of this celebration is about. Do you remember? Right. Its Jesus. He is the reason we are celebrating. Or, rather, should be the reason. 

I will be honest and admit that I have been terrible about sending out Christmas cards and wishes for the last couple years. But, despite my failure to do so, we have still received quite a few cards from our more prepared, dedicated family and friends. While they are all beautiful and all have filled my heart with warmth, there was one in particular that I cannot let go of... 

Inside the card was a sheet of paper folder into a square. It was a typed letter and, before I fully opened it, I saw that it was signed "Love, Jesus Christ." Intrigued as to why someone would send me a long letter and claim it to be written by Jesus, I just had to read it. 

It began with Jesus talking about his birthday celebration and how he was watching everyone prepare for the festivities - all being done in honor of Him. It goes on to say that he watches everyone celebrate - with lavish feasts and many wrapped gifts. But yet HE wasn't invited. "I was the guest of honor and they didn't remember to send me an invitation." When it comes time to open gifts, HE didn't have any under the tree. "What would you feel if on your birthday everyone shared gifts and you did not get one?"

The letter went on to say that even though we seem to have left Jesus out of all of our celebrations, he has a bigger celebration and has extended his invite to us. 

This is the part, though, that really got me thinking...who puts a physical "To Jesus" gift under the tree? After all, most of the gifts that we give to Him are not material things. For example, love, sharing and spreading His story. But... what IF we were to get a present for Jesus and place it under the tree... what would you get for him? A watch? A book? Maybe some new shoes?

I went to bed that night and thought about that for a little bit. What on earth would I give Jesus? What do you give THE king as a gift?! What can I give someone who doesn't want anything but my heart? Obviously choosing a gift for someone is a personal choice... and forget about placing a monetary value on an actual gift to Jesus. And you cannot necessarily wrap a heart. 

This lead me to my important, yet very short list... Gifts such as... 

My time... choosing how I spend my time and who I spend it with. Using the time I have been given to make positive impacts in the world, even if only a small corner of it. 

My writing...something that I enjoy doing and think I am a notch above mediocre at... I can and will try to continue to dedicate my writing to spreading His love and message to the best of my ability. 

And last, but not certainly not least... 

My heart... every day I am growing as I focus my eyes on God. Some days are easier than others, but I am learning, trusting, sharing, praying, reading, and changing... because my Jesus lives. 

If I could wrap these gifts, I would place them under the tree and write "To Jesus" on the name tag. Fortunately for me, Jesus already knows what these gifts are and he even knows whether or not I give them to him! So instead, I think I will write a note, place it in a box, wrap it up as beautiful as I am able to and, in my best handwriting, write "To Jesus, with Love" on the name tag. What would the note read, you ask? I would simply say... "Look at me." I will be his gift. Just as you can be his gift, too. 

As you are getting ready for your Christmas celebration this year and start winding down to the big day... whether tucking the kiddos into bed, watching Christmas movies, or just sitting in the living room soaking in the magical glow of the Christmas tree lights... take a moment to think about the gift you have for the One who is the reason. What would be in the box you write "To Jesus" on? 

And for those of you who simply find yourselves following in the footsteps of the commercialized concept of Christmas, but don't actually believe...He is inviting you to HIS party... all you have to do is accept his invitation. 

Merry Christmas!!!

** In case you want to read the Letter from Jesus, you can find it here**




Wednesday, December 9, 2015

For a second time

It was weird going through holidays for the first year after my dad passed away. Even though I wasn't living near him at the time, there were still the holiday wishes, traditions... and, of course, his mere presence. I thought the more meaningful holidays would be more difficult. We cried, we laughed, we made new traditions, I cried some more. But we got through. 

Last New Years Eve was the worst for me. I hadn't given it much thought since it really isn't a family-type holiday, etc. It may sound odd, but this hit me really hard -- I was leaving the last year my dad saw and was moving into a new year - without him. A new year that he will never see...2015.

I cannot begin to explain the feelings that I had at that time. I dreaded that day and as much as I was trying to be excited for change and a new, fresh year... I felt an emptiness all the way to the core of my being. He is gone. 

I wrote many times previously about coincidences and how I do not believe in them. And how those moments exist when you realize God is etching a memory in your mind that will not soon fade. Its a memory that supersedes all other memories, encumbering all of the senses. Almost as if you are watching your life on a movie screen, these moments freeze in the form of a snapshot before falling off the screen and continuing with the movie. God knows how important they are... 


... But do we? Do we know how to pick up on them? Do we pay attention when they happen? I know I can remember many times over the last several years when this occurred. And it blows my mind when I look back and put imaginary dots on each etched memory and connect them -- all leading up to the current situation. A DIVINE map. 

For example, when I visited Pittsburgh for the first time, I distinctly remember feeling that I was going to be living there. I was taking in every view, every street, every smell, every sound. Every tiny feeling. And then, like snapshots in my brain, I would even think to myself - "wow, I am really taking this all in." I acknowledged what was happening, even if I didn't fully understand why. <snapshot>

Or the sentence I wrote in the Father's Day card I sent my dad that last year... Father's day was the Sunday before his heart attack. I wrote the words, "I cant imagine not having you in my life." The moment I wrote those words, I got the strangest feeling... I remember the whole effect as if it just happened. At the time, however, I dismissed it as me getting a bit emotional thinking about losing him someday, wayyyy down the road. I didn't catch the hint from the big guy upstairs that Id be losing him in a couple of days and to make sure that I make the most of that time. No, I didn't. Boy, do I wish I had. <Another snapshot.>

On a side not, do you know that I still cant write those words to the people who mean so much to me? In my head, its as if "I cant imagine not having you in my life" is some sort of omen or something. A cursed statement. Realistically I know that its not true. But it was real and traumatic enough for me to know that it will probably be a long time before I do. 

Another instance I remember is driving on a side road heading to work with my partner. I remember telling her how I had never lost anyone really close to me until I lost a co-worker. (I was referring not to losing someone you love that you don't speak to or see often but to someone you are used to seeing daily and will never see again.) I remember exactly where I was at in that moment and how I felt. I remember sharing how the co-worker's wife told me he had a massive heart attack and didn't make it. She then proceeded to tell me that in the weeks leading up to his death, he had organized his important papers, life insurance, updated the will, etc. Her words? "It was almost as if he knew it was coming." <Yet...Another snapshot.>

While still living in Pittsburgh and preparing for our move to Florida, my parents were a great deal of help. Securing a place was the final thing that needed to be done before we could head south. Due to website issues, we had to physically take a deposit to the leasing office... My dad (and mom) took care of this the morning before his heart gave out. Everything was secure. My mom would be safe and looked out for. And my last conversation with my dad was about us having the green light to come on down. <You guessed it... snapshot.>

He wouldn't have had it any other way. 

2015 turned out to be a pretty good year... but that doesn't mean I miss my father any less. I know he is with us... sometimes smiling, sometimes laughing, and sometimes just shaking his head. 

As we move on through the holidays again... Let this be a reminder to you that we never really know when our time is up or the time of those we hold so close to our hearts. But when those Polaroid shots appear in your mind and you are suddenly aware its happening. Stop, acknowledge it and give thanks to God.  It is all a part of your journey... wherever it leads. What picture will your dots connect to make? 

I love you all. 




Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The anxious bug

Hello, again! This post is slightly different than most, but its something that is very real in my life and I wanted to share. 

Before I start spilling out a boatload of verbiage, let me present a situation to you:

You are driving down the road and you have a thought about where you are heading. For all intents and purposes, lets say you are heading to work. So, again, you are driving down the road thinking about work. Then you remember the project that you didn't finish before you left last night. And, then you think about your boss who is likely going to be there when you arrive at work - and you know he is going to ask you about that project. Its ok, you will remain calm. Well, until you remember that you have to take a longer-than-normal lunch today because you have an eye doctor appointment. Oh, no. And you have to leave early to get your daughter to her recital on time. The thought pops into your head momentarily that perhaps calling off of work would just save everything - except the project that is due and already behind schedule because you didn't finish it yesterday. With all of these thoughts in your head, you now are throwing yourself into a panic - finding it hard to catch your breath, your head spins a little bit, you have to turn the AC up a bit to counteract the hot flash you are having, etc. I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. 

Now, <shakes her head> imagine that ... all of those feelings and worry and fear all resulting from one tiny, itsy, bitsy, single thought on an ordinary morning commute.

Imagine if you felt that numerous times throughout your day. 

Every day. 


Many people do. I am one of them. The above story is just a generic sample to try to draw a picture. I am referring to the thought process that occurs and the resulting consequence of overwhelming anxiety that is so strong it feels as though we are drifting to another dimension, with reality becoming more distant with every passing second. It could happen anywhere and for any particular reason, depending on the individual and the situation. And when it happens it feels like it takes every ounce of courage that can be mustered just to get through it. 

Sounds ridiculous and absurd, doesn't it? I know. Anyone who deals with this and understands it knows. I mean, who would want to literally drive themselves crazy with their own mind? That still doesn't change anything. And it certainly doesn't change the reality of it. 

Ill be honest here. First, I have a degree in social work. I have studied this both in text and in real-life situations, one-on-one and in group settings. Two, when I was younger, I visited counselors and doctors, trying different therapies and medicines and even a combination of the two to get the anxiety to stop. Nothing truly helps ...just a bit of numbing of the anxiety.

Does it ever go away? I'm quickly approaching the end of my 30's and, thus far, the answer is no. The only difference is now I am all grown up and I know how to handle situations better. Not perfectly, but better. Only the individuals closest to me will be able to tell when my anxiety raises. I talk myself through it - no medications - and then I move on, washing my hands of the anxiety. Boom!


The reason I am bringing this up is because I've encountered people in my life who are dealing with this quite a bit lately. And I've learned over the years that, unless you personally deal with anxiety disorder, you never can truly understand. But I have a few tips that I want to share... 

- Do not judge someone who seems to act out in what may appear to be a "normal" moment. This can include odd behavior, quick irritation, etc.
- What seems irrational to you is very real to the person experiencing it. 
- Listen. When the anxiety attack passes, let them talk - freely.
- Forgive them. Forgive them for things that are said or actions that occur. 
- Ask if there is anything you do to help. 
- Always look for a possible indirect distraction. Using things like humor and jumping into song and dance is something that can ease the anxiety for some people. It likely wont diminish it, but it will allow time for the mind to possibly calm itself. 
- Give them space.

Personally, in more recent times, I've learned a few bible verses that I recite to myself quite often... which seems to help. Like my favorite:

"I am leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." - John 14:27

BUT, quite honestly, when there is so much going on in your mind and you are trying to get a grip, trying to remember a verse is just, well, not feasible no matter how hard ya try! Sometimes - don't laugh - I just yell out "JESUS!" After all... 

"When you don't know what to say, Just say Jesus. There is power in the name, the name of Jesus...If the words wont come and you don't know what to say, just say Jesus. " - 7eventh Time Down, Just Say Jesus. 

Just my thoughts and advice. Take it for what its worth. I know you all know someone who deals with anxiety disorder...though you may not ever understand it, it doesn't mean that you cannot be the guiding light and support for those who do.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December 1st

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." whether sung by Johnny Mathis or Michael Buble, its the same... Christmas is coming. In fact, as I peeled November off of my work calendar, I had to catch my breath a little. We have 25 days. That's it, folks. Are you ready? 

I will be honest... I'm not. In fact, I am really struggling this year. Let me explain why. 

A couple months ago I joined a community orchestra. Our first concert, of course, is a "holiday" concert and we are, therefore, playing nothing but "holiday" music. Because of this, I have been singing, humming, and whistling Christmas music since about mid-October. I couldn't wait for Halloween and Thanksgiving to pass us by so I could focus on Christmas! In fact, I was begging to put our tree up 2 months ago!! (I lost this battle, by the way). 

Then this happened: 

Commercials, news reports, overheard dialogue, social media and various other communications ALL focused on... you guessed it... SHOPPING and DECORATING and DEALS and all things supposedly "Christmas." This has really just made me think. A lot. 

See, I am finding myself rather disgusted lately... a bit of a Scrooge. Why do we find ourselves becoming slaves to the material world and monetary idolization? Its happening all around us! Maybe even to us! Just open your eyes! We have to have the perfect tree (or trees), we have to buy the perfect gift and will give up things that matter (i.e. time with family) to stand in line for the perfect bargain, picture-perfect home decorations, loads of gifts to spoil even those who already have so much... the list could go on and on. 

As I sit here and say really? This is what we have come to? (Its been this way for years, yes, but I am just now catching on... ) Did we forget why we celebrate Christmas? I mean, its the celebration of the birth of Jesus!! You know, the Son of God who teaches us to be HUMBLE and to serve others. The one who teaches us about focusing our attention off of our worldly desires and on to Him. 

For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. ~ 2 Peter 2:18

Nobody is perfect - I know that! We all sin. We all have desires that we shouldn't. We all do things that we know we should refrain from. I am not trying to say that how you are living and preparing for your Christmas celebration is any more right or wrong from how I am preparing for mine. I just wanted to share that I feel a bit brokenhearted that we get so swept away from what we are truly supposed to be focused on in order to seek perfection in something as insignificant as a table centerpiece.

What would happen if we all stopped shopping and instead huddled together with loved ones in prayer and fellowship, simply awaiting a feast and celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Jesus? Our minds having to focus on nothing else. Sounds peaceful, doesn't it? 

Just in case you need a reminder of what its all about, click here.

And because I want to make you all warm and fuzzy and look for what matters in your own Christmas family traditions...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Don't blow out the flame.

Radical Faith - what is it? Faith by itself is defined as having complete trust and confidence in God and/or a strong system of religious beliefs. If we add the term radical before the word faith, wouldn't this turn plain ol' faith into an extreme trust, confidence and belief?

Like I have mentioned numerous times, I am fairly new to my faith. I am just discovering what God can do and how the whole universe seems to be linked together, squashing the idea of any mere 'coincidence'. My faith grows stronger with each passing day. 

But what about radical faith? Seems like so many of us go to church, tell those around us that we are praying for them, hold our bibles, proclaim that we are Christians. But how many actually stop and say a prayer for someone when we said that we would? And how many actually open their bibles and study them, rather than letting dust collect on the cover? And how many actually follow the principles laid out within God's word that define what a true "Christian" is? 


Let's take a look at Matthew 16:24: Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me."

Agreeing to do this is a radical step. During this period of time, the cross represented crucifixion. Therefore, Jesus was telling the disciples that if they wanted to follow Him, they had to sacrifice their lives - giving up THEIR own life to follow HIS way of life. More literally, its the ultimate commitment which includes the risk of death.  


How about that voice you hear sometimes? Perhaps its a voice in your heart that feels like a dream... telling you to do something that you otherwise wouldn't because the risk is so great? Have you ever experienced that? Maybe its a nagging feeling... 

Maybe its telling you to dedicate your time to people in a certain faraway country, or maybe its telling you to redirect your focus from what you perceive as your future to something else, or maybe its that voice that tells you to take a stand for a group that doesn't otherwise have a voice. 

Or maybe you are still trying to find your place in this world, but you know that the life you are living now isn't it. 

Either way, with most of these feelings, we encounter the chance of radical faith. I say that because they involve radical change. Its not a matter of making small sacrifices and trying to let God know you sorta-kinda-maybe-hear-him-speaking-to-you-but-you-are-much-too-comfortable-in-your-current-situation-to-give-110%. Its about picking up your cross, saying adios to your current way of life, and setting out to follow life as only God wants you to. And, yes, sometimes this can lead to having to step away from friends and family and comfort zones to immerse yourself in something far greater than you can ever imagine. 

Personally, I feel God stirring in my heart. Do I know what his plan is for my life? Not exactly. But, its coming, this I know. And I am ready to get my hands dirty, so-to-speak. I think that is why the term radical faith has been resonating with me so much lately and, unfortunately, I do not know too many people who understand what I am feeling... think about it:

Do you really feel that God's plan for the majority of us would be to act as little ants on the earth... working 9-5 jobs, attending social events, walking down a path of semi-monotonous living, all while going to church, donating to the occasional charity, and letting people know - "Hey, I'm a Christian?"  God is MUCH bigger than the little worries of our comfortable lives.

Remove life as we know it and replace it with pure love, faith and confidence. Remove what WE want to do, hear, read, socialize with (insert any verb, actually) and replace it with what HE wants. This is a tad bit of what is stirring in my heart. 

Life itself should be greater! We are supposed to take extreme faith and put it in to action... take the little flame and turn it into a raging bonfire! Let the light shine! 

"Start a fire in my soul fan the flame and make it grow so there's not doubt or denying. Let it burn so brightly that everyone around can see that its YOU, that its YOU that we need... " - Start a Fire, by Unbroken. 

Remember, God has a long history of choosing ordinary people to handle magnificent feats. God has a plan for your life. Are you listening? 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Construction zone

Well, hello there! If you are reading this at night, Congrats! You have made it through another day of beauty and challenges. And for those morning, folks - put on your armor and jump full force into your day today... you are not alone as you step out. Look for the beauty, its always there.

I know, I know... Some days the beauty is more difficult to see, isn't it? I have those days sometimes, too.

But check out some of these lyrics of Just Be Held by Casting Crowns:

Hold it all together
everybody needs you strong. 
But life hits you out of nowhere
and barely leaves you holding on. 

So when you're on your knees and answers seem so far away
You're not alone, stop holding on and just be held. 
Your world's not falling apart, its falling into place. 
I'm on the throne, stop holding on and just be held. 
Just be held.

If your eyes are on the storm
You'll wonder if I love you still.
But if your eyes are on the cross
You'll know I always have and I always will.

And not a tear is wasted.
In time, you'll understand.
I'm painting beauty with the ashes.
Your life is in my hands.


"Your world's not falling apart, it's falling into place.." Wow. I just love that line. Talk about making a pessimist adjust the lens of life, right? These lyrics, they just make me shake my head. When we encounter rough patches, trying moments or feel as though we are being tested - we all have these moments - we tend to think that we just have no luck and that God has just been focusing his time elsewhere. 

But what if its true? What if they really aren't rough patches or trials in life? What if you are just in the moment of construction or re-design? I mean, look... this could be your life right now, covered in yellow and add some flashing lights: 
Shoot, you may even think that you are a walking disaster some days! I know I have felt that way! You know - those times when no matter what you do, you cannot seem to get/say/do anything right and you feel that maybe it would have been better to have just stayed in bed all day. Now think about it... maybe that was God trying to re-adjust your life... you were trying to get/say/do one thing and he was telling you... "no, no, sweet cheeks...not today." After all... 

"The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps" - Proverbs 16:9
                                                                          

That movie you were planning to see that was sold out before you got there, the lunch date you were looking forward to that got cancelled, feeling like an outsider among a group of people, discovering that a friend of yours has a secret drug addiction, watching your child not succeed in areas that you had hoped they would... these are all construction zones. And they are all moments that will lead to our growth or someone else's if we just have faith.

Now that you have listened to all I've had to say and have discovered the lyrics to this song, why not take a moment for yourself, close your eyes, and hear them speak to you... Enjoy!


Friday, October 2, 2015

Life is not a looking glass

Time is short. Very short. It runs out so quickly and we cannot get it back. I don't know about you, but I ALWAYS have great intentions and then time gets away from me and, before I know it, I don't have enough time to finish all that I want to do. (And, you guessed it, that explains why I am so late at writing this blog.)
"Life is not a looking glass, don't get tangled in your past..." - Brandi Carlile

Each particle of sand that falls through this hourglass is gone...in real life, we cant flip it over and let it come back through again. Its considered the past and that is where it stays. Think about it... that breath you just took.. you took it in the past. That last sentence you read? It was in a past moment, too. Its crazy to think of things like that. 

Just look at this: There are approximately 83 days left until Christmas. That is 1,992 hours, 119,520 minutes, 7,171,200 seconds that will be gone. Forever. Time we cannot get back. That's a lot of time, isn't it?

We get so busy that we don't take the time to spend with loved ones or do the things that we love to do. We get stuck in life trying to do more of what we HAVE to do rather than what we WANT to do. And maybe this isn't the case for all of you. But for most of us, even though we know how precious time is, we still let those seconds disappear without truly ever learning their meaning. 

At the moment, I am sitting in Starbucks writing, thinking, reflecting... and people watching. Many people are here, just like me, doing the same thing. I usually spend my Fridays (or most days, rather) running around doing all the necessities. I will take care of the "needs" on my to-do list later... and for the moment, I will sit here, enjoying the calm that it brings and the satisfaction of accomplishment of my "wants." (This want even includes my Chai Tea Iced Soy Latte...oh boy!) 

And I think to myself that I need to do this more often. Even add myself to my to-do list. You should, too. 

I just love this picture: 

So, with that said ... when you unwrap your gifts on Christmas, surround yourself with family and prepare your feast - take a minute to look back and answer this question: What do you have to show for your 7,171,200 seconds? Did you make them meaningful? Did you use them wisely? Use this thought and plan your wants now, before you lose the chance.


“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ~ Ernest Hemingway



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

This could be you

Lets talk hypothetical situations for a minute, shall we? You are walking down the street. You see a man sitting on the ground, his back against a building. Upon first glance, you notice his disheveled appearance, worn clothing, and the grungy backpack sitting close to him. What is your first thought? When you see his face, what or who do you see?

This is where I am learning people differ. And I apologize in advance for my bit of a rant... 

Recently, I was reading the book of Job. If you are not familiar with his story, Job was a good, faithful man who had done well in life. In my version of the bible (NLT), he is referred to as "blameless." Satan approached God and wanted to test Job's faith. God told him that he could test him in any manner he wanted, but to spare his life. During this process, Job lost all his children, his sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, servants, etc. His body was covered in boils from head to toe. His spirits were down, but his faith never faltered. 

How did Job - a man who had everything and then suffered such loss and pain -  appear to his friends? Judging by their reaction in this book, Job appeared to have been a man who did some serious sinning... and God was punishing him. They encouraged him to repent. They couldn't understand - how long was he going to let God punish him without presenting his sins?

But Job, see, he did not have any great sins to ask for forgiveness for... his friends were only making the assumption that he had, based on how Job's situation appeared. After all, here was a man who was suffering physically, mentally, emotionally, with great loss over and over. He must have done something to deserve this, right?

Now lets stop for a second and look at this: 

Assumption: noun. a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.

Did you see those last two words? WITHOUT PROOF. 

We cannot assume what is true in the lives of others. We cannot assume that if someone is in a place of suffering that they are there due to their own actions or as a result of committed sins. We cannot assume that their current situation is a "punishment."

Job did not have to suffer because he had sinned. He was being tested by Satan, with Gods permission, and eventually became healthy and happy again. HIS FAITH DID NOT CRUMBLE!

Now lets take this lesson and go back to the initial question. What do you see when you see a broken man sitting on the ground, leaning against a building? Do you assume that he is there because of his sins? Is this his punishment? Is he lazy? Is he an addict? A loser? Or is he even broken at all? Do you see the light shining in his eyes? A light that says he is like Job - full a faith and holding onto that faith because it is all that he has left in his world (which is still greater than many people have)

He may be at a different place in his life that you are in yours, but that doesn't make him any less of a human being. That doesn't mean his needs, his wants, and his desires are any different than yours. We all crave love, compassion, interaction. We need food, shelter, clothing. You, me and the man on the street. The only difference? 

Not all of us are in a position to have those things. At the same exact moment, anyways.

Do you know that not everyone understands this? I didn't. Not until recently. My mind has a hard time comprehending how this happens so I am not sure I am going to be able to elaborate on it as I wanted to. After all, its a SIMPLE situation: 
  • Man is broken. 
  • Man is hungry. 
  • Lets show him he is loved with warmth, care and compassion. 
  • Show him that he is a person, too. 
  • And, by all means, lets give the man some food. 

How can that thought process not be the same for everyone? Its not about who the person is. Its about seeing a need and filling it. Seeing a person and sharing love -- something so easy, simple, and free -- but could be the difference between life and death. Do you see it? 

Maybe this will give you something to ponder... 


The truth is, each person has a story. I have a story. You have a story. The guy sitting across from you has a story. And the homeless woman bundled up under the bridge has a story, too. Each story is unique to the person. Its between you and God. I cannot determine what happens in your life, just as you cannot determine what happens in mine. Making assumptions about someone's situation in life is JUDGING them... WITHOUT PROOF.  

Next time you see someone in need ... be a friend. It doesn't take much to do great things. After all, this could be you one day:




“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ~ Ernest Hemingway



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Extra, Extra! Read All About It!

I am sure you have heard the phrase "Its not all about you" more than once in your lifetime, right? Maybe it was directed to you, or to someone else. Maybe you were a child, or maybe it was just yesterday! However and whenever it was, it probably didn't make you feel too good. Its kinda like someone pointing a finger right at you and telling you that you are being selfish, while reminding you that there are other people in this world.

Well guess what?


WAKE UP! IT IS NOT ALL ABOUT YOU!

Its time we do something for those around us. Those with needs greater than you and I. I know I have talked about this before, but its becoming a such a focus in my life at this time that I cannot help but bring it up again.


When was the last time you felt down in the dumps and struggled to find a smile? Yesterday? Last week? Today? It sucks, doesn't it? I know. But take a minute and think about how you felt in that moment and what you were doing ... Go on, think about it. I will wait. 

Ok, finished? I don't know what you were thinking or why you couldn't smile, but I bet you still had a home to sit in and sulk, didn't you? Perhaps a job you were frustrated you had to be at? Did you eat something? Did you eat too much of something? Did you go shopping to lift your mood? Did you drive your car there? I think its safe to say many of these are true. After all, you obviously have a phone or computer if you are reading this.

Now, what if you had nothing? What if you didn't have a house, a job, even a crumb to eat or sip of water to drink? What if you didn't have clean clothes - or any change of clothes for that matter? What if your shoes had holes and each time it rained, your feet got wet from walking on the wet ground? What if you didn't have any toilet paper? What if, despite all of this (and then some) you still had a smile on your face?

That is what I encountered recently. I met someone (we will call him "M") who had nothing but a small black backpack. He was standing under a pavilion in the park conversing with a woman, resting on a bench a few feet away, about her two dogs. As we approached him, you could see the nervousness arise in him. He didn't know who we were or what we wanted and his trust seemed to have been battered over time. Once he realized we meant no harm, he smiled. He laughed. He shook our hands. 'M' even made a little joke. Again, he had nothing but a backpack....and he was smiling. Makes you think, doesn't it?

We get so wrapped up in our world, with everything we have to do and want to do and all of our wants and desires that we forget that just waking up in the morning is enough to give thanks for. We don't "need" anything else. Sometimes it seems like it takes losing everything to gain everything. Here is a thought - what if everything we think we need in life is exactly what is clogging up our life and keeping us from finding pure, honest happiness; completeness. This reminds me of the verse:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. Mark 8:35

"M" made a lasting impact in my life in mere minutes. He even has a little spot in my heart and doesn't even know it. Maybe its time we all gave up what we refer to as "precious time" and go out to find the real "precious" time... As we were walking away from "M," after giving us thanks and saying that we gave him an answer to his prayer, we heard him loudly say, "And thank YOU, God!" It was my reminder. Hearing this broken man shout out and give thanks for all that he had gave me chills. And made me smile. 


Monday, August 10, 2015

Gifts

I just love when connections happen... not coincidences (these don't exist, remember?)... but the connections that occur when I know I am right where I am supposed to be on my journey. Sometimes when this happens it is a huge event - bells, whistles, a marching band, or anything else that may get my attention. At other times, I feel the connection, smile, and just give thanks for the sign. It is the latter that I have been blessed with this week. 

Last week it was brought to my attention that I had been very negative for quite some time. That the comments that I had made and my overall outlook was making it hard for others to want to be around me. Ouch, right? I mean, that was my first reaction. Who wants to hear that when you are already in an apparent sour mood? Well, I didn't say much, but I listened and then I let those words sit with me for a while. It really made me take a look at how I had been behaving/acting/reacting, etc. I saw the negativity, too. 

First this happened... 

At church we have been talking about freedom. More specifically, the freedom you get when you become a follower of Christ. A list was given of all of the negative emotions you can lose and the positive ones that you can gain. I cannot exactly remember the list, but I have confidence that you can put together your own list of negative emotions that could be shooed straight out the back door once Jesus is in your heart, right? Now replace that list with a list of joy, redemption, elation, etc. 

I love Jesus, I have asked him to be my Lord and Savior. I have been baptized in His name. So I should be happy, right? I should be jumping around with my tap shoes on, trying to start up a dance competition with Fred Astaire. Or swinging from the rafters. Or shouting praises from the mountaintops. (Should I keep going or do you get the picture of the extent of happiness I am trying to portray?) The missing point is that we are promised great joy, but we have to accept it. After all, anyone can give us a gift, but we don't get the benefits of the gift until we actually open (accept) it. 

I really felt like this tiny part of the overall message spoke to me and reminded me that I have all of these gifts and tools at my disposal... so there is no need for me to worry and bog my spirit down with the unnecessary. I am taken care of. 

Then this happened...

I woke up this morning to my "verse of the day" on my phone. It read: 

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God though Christ has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:31-32

There is no need to even break that verse down. I mean, it is there in black and white... my recent negativity is no bueno. 

So, I say thank you, God, for the reminders... For the connections that are always happening around me. I have been given gifts and I accept those gifts. Sometimes, though, when we encounter the bumps in the road of life, we need to remember what we have been given and not get caught up in the little things. 

Make sure to remember what you are grateful for today. And every day. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Adjective: Selfish

I believe God just told me that I was selfish. I mean, I know I have my moments, but is it really necessary to use the actual term selfish?! Isn't selfish when you think of yourself first? Not really having a care or concern for anyone else? Filling your needs before others? I don't think that describes me. Or perhaps I am so selfish that I cant see it? Lets ask Webster, shall we? 

According to Webster, selfish means: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself; seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others. Ouch. 

Like I've said before, its not too often that I hear God speaking to me directly. So when this happens, I do my best to listen. This time it happened about a week ago. I arrived at work extra early and was getting settled to start my day. I decided to say a prayer before I got lost in my day. While I was rambling on and on, I saw a picture in my mind, clear as day... it was a page of the bible and I saw Philippians 2:7. I immediately forgot what I was saying, opened my eyes and grabbed my bible. Opening up to this verse, here is what I read: 


Rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, 
being made in human likeness. 

Jesus gave up his rights, his privileges and his entitlement to become a servant - a slave. He humbly served others without letting pride get in the way. He didn't use the fact of who he was just to move forward or get special treatment from others. Humble and selfless behavior. 

I think one of the most famous stories of selfishness that I know of in the bible is that of Cain and Abel. They were to make a sacrifice to God. Abel sacrificed a lamb and pleased God. However, Cain brought an offering that was not his greatest. He withheld the good for himself and God was not pleased. The selfishness in his offering lead to rage and jealousy and, finally, the murder of his own brother. 

Or how about David? After all he had accomplished and how far he had come, he still sought pleasure... with Bathsheba. He was so focused on his own fulfillment that he didn't care about the cost. David's selfishness created lies and took lives. 

There are so many stories of selfishness. Whether its greed, self-indulgence, egotistical,  mean, self-serving, pleasure-seeking... the stories are there. In fact, I think in some form or another, most of us probably are a little selfish. Maybe we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't even realize it. 

Think of the last time you did something for yourself... (and I'm not just referring to a massage or buying a pair of new shoes)...
When is the last time you did anything for yourself? And when is the last time you did anything for someone else?

Did you cook yourself dinner? What did you do with the leftovers? Did you throw away your leftovers so they wouldn't clog up your refrigerator? Did you pack them up to give to someone who may be hungry? 

Did you come to a stoplight and find yourself face to face with a person holding a signed that reads "hungry"...? Did you reach for your wallet? Give him or her your packed lunch? Did you avoid eye contact? 

Did you hold the door for someone who may have walked into your office behind you? Or did you just open the door for yourself, never looking back? 

Did you let your friend tell you about her day? Or did you just tell her about yours? 

I have been trying my best to take a solid look at ways that I am selfish and I've discovered that, while I may not blatantly put myself before others, there are a lot of little things that add up... things that I had never taken the time to realize. This girl right here is guilty as charged of: making assumptions daily that I believe everyone else should already know (and agree with, of course) even though I haven't even verbalized them...and then having terrible reactions when things don't go as planned (as I assumed they would go). Talking more than I listen. Letting insignificant things consume my time and attention, rather than focusing on the bigger picture. And not spending enough time with God. I could keep going, but I'll stop there... for now.

As I focus on this, my list gets longer every day of things I do that is me putting myself ahead of you. Sometimes, I even feel like I have given myself 110% on a task only to realize that selfishness was still involved and I didn't even realize it. 

I am slowly discovering how my behavior is affecting others and how I need to make some changes. All I can do is throw my hands up to God and ask him to help me be a better person. 

How long is your list?

Remember ... Being polite and having manners is one thing. Going above and beyond to put someone else before yourself because your heart feels it is another. I think its hard not to want the best for our loved ones and ourselves... you work hard and should be rewarded, right? The gifts in life that matter come from God, not from earthly 'things.' I do not have a right (or entitlement) to any circumstance, no matter how much I think I deserve it. And neither do you.